“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education.
When the hustle and bustle of a life in a global city demands a temporary break, where better to go to chill out than a convenient park? If the park contains enough tall trees, it can even hide the buildings in the neighborhood and transport one nearer to nature: an oasis of calm in a global city.
There is no universal formula for a city park, but it will typically have plenty of grass and attractive floral displays, interspersed with some water, a bridge over that water, perhaps boating opportunities, some place to get snacks or more and well located for access on foot or by efficient public transport are pretty essential. There may be a running track, a cycle path and a dog walking opportunity - dogs may be let off the leash, required to be kept on it or barred from the park - that varies!
Some special events may be staged there such as outdoor concerts and perhaps a famous structure adorns the park. Above all, parks are an environmental matter - a city's green credentials depend on how readily its citizens can get to green space. Students on CAPA's Global Cities program in Beijing learn that the 2020 plans for the capital include ensuring that all residents can access green space within reasonable walking distance or short bus ride of their homes.
Photo: Picnic in YuYuanTan Park Beijing by Colin Speakman
It cannot be denied that many city parks occupy extremely valuable land bordering expensive real estate - think of Hyde Park in London so close to Marble Arch, the start of Oxford Street and Piccadilly, connected by Park Lane - what would planning permission on the other side of Park Lane be worth? But it can surely never happen!
Photo: London Hyde Park dawn riders on Rotten Row by Martin-James
Yet in Istanbul we have seen a much appreciated open green space Gezi Park slated for redevelopment and we have also seen the people's response in demonstrations to occupy that space.
Photo: Gezi Park, Istanbul by robin robokow
In another CAPA Global City - Shanghai - the Pudong side was only developed over last 20 years or so - Century Park was built into the plans from the start and offers all the expected benefits and the sight of many locals flying kites.
Photo: Map of Shanghai's Century Park by Colin Speakman
Parks need to be enjoyed safely. Some are so big that they need their own policing and emergency responders. Some have reputations that needed to be changed, especially in evening hours - think of New York's Central Park in earlier decades. In my home town we had Stanley Park. It had the usual greenery and lake and boating AND was the home of Blackpool Zoo and Lancashire County Cricket’s Blackpool venue for Championship games. That was a lot and I thought many parks had that – not all do!
So let's take a look around CAPA International Education's Global Cities at the best places to reconnect with nature.
Photo: CAPA Beijing students stroll in Beihai Park by Colin Speakman
It is hard to miss this large Beijing park and imperial garden located, with an impressive lake, near the Forbidden City and feeding into Houhai. It was first built in the 10th century. The most famous landmark is the White Pagoda (Bai Ta) on Qionghua Island. Rebuilt then restored owing to earthquake damage on separate occasions, the current version of the pagoda dates from 1976. Visitors can also find historic Buddhist temples, the Five-Dragon Pavilions and the Nine-Dragon Wall. Many traditional small gardens exist throughout the park. For a relaxing, unhurried day, this is the place to visit in Beijing.
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Bosques de Palermo
Photo: Bosques de Palermo by Vi Ayala
This "Palermo Woods" park is also known as Parque Tres de Febrero, and is a large area in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. It is famous for its groves, rose gardens and lakes. Its other name comes from the date of the overthrow of Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1852, and marks that his extensive BA properties became public lands. The park dates from 1875 and was expanded from 1892 to 1912. It is home to several important additions since, including the "Spaniards" Monument, the Municipal Velodrome, the Galileo Gaililei Planetarium, the Japanese Gardens and the Eduardo Sivori Museum. There's a lot to see here!
St Stephen's Green
Photo: St. Stephen's Green, Dublin by ger power
This park is close to CAPA Dublin's base and is a relaxing place to walk around. It was officially opened in 1880 and its landscape was designed by William Sheppard. It is a prominent park in the city center and one of three "ancient commons" in the city. It boasts many features including, to the North, a garden for the blind with scented plants labelled in Braille. There is a large lake spanned by the O'Connell Bridge with a flow from an artificial waterfall. In the South there is a bandstand in an open heath frequented by local shoppers and students. Look out for a Yeats memorial garden and a bust of James Joyce among several memorials to famous people and events.
Parco Delle Cascine
Photo: Le Cascine, Florence by Massimo
This is Firenze's largest park and once a private hunting reserve of the Medici dukes. Peter Leopold opened it to the public in 1776, so they could enjoy its boulevards, fountains and bird sanctuaries. Today Florence locals flock in summer to use the Le Pavoniere swimming pool and it has become popular with families at weekends. Watch kite-flyers, rollerbladders, joggers and bikers in action. As in other parks, there is a monument - this one is to Rajaram Cuttiputi, an Indian maharajah who died on holiday in 1870. He was cremated by the river and British artisans designed a statue and memorial.
Photo: Yildiz Park by Sofia_K.
Also known as Yildiz Grove, this is one of the largest public parks in Istanbul and located in the Besiktas district. At one time it was part of the imperial garden of Yildiz Palace, having previously been a forest. The park boasts two man-made lakes, many varieties of trees, three beautiful pavilions and many flowers and plants. It offers panoramic views of the Bosphorus and is a popular picnic spot at weekends. The park also contains a working porcelain factory.
I selected London's Regents Park over Hyde Park as I lived for a while within walking distance, and, like the park from my home town, it contains a zoo - the famous London Zoo. It was also once home to the University of London's Bedford College and now to a range of international education providers centered on Regent's College. It boasts the Open Air Theater, a beautiful rose garden and the largest grass area for sports in Central London. It is a Royal Park and dates from 1814. It is relaxing to take a row on the lake or sit in the gardens or enjoy a traditional English tea.
Photo: A people carrier ready to go in Century Park by Colin Speakman
This is the largest park in Shanghai, created as part of the development of Shanghai Pudong from the 1990s. It features a mixture of British, Japanese and Chinese garden styles. It is well served by public transport and located next to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and a famous "underground" fake goods market, the Xin Yang Market.
Photo: Boating and fishing in Century Park by Colin Speakman
A waterway with relaxing boating circles the park and the open space is excellent for flying kites. For those that do not have the energy for a stroll around, there is a reasonably price electric shuttle cart to make it easy to see everything. Be sure to visit the Lucky Pond, the Bird Island and the Lotus Pond.
Photo: Centennial Park, Sydney by Neil Dan Fernandes
Australia is a country with a lot of open space, so its parks need to offer some large scale space. Centennial Park is the largest of three parks that make up the Centennial Parklands. The park is located south east of the Central Business District and takes its name from the dedication in 1888 to celebrate the first 100 years of European Settlement in Australia. It was established as a people's park forever. Its most famous building is the Federation Pavilion as the site of the official ceremony to mark the Federation of Australia and the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in January 1901. To travel through the park use the famous Grand Drive - separated for cycling, car driving, walking, running and horse-riding.
Do you have a favorite park at home or abroad? Leave us a comment and tell us where and why!